1-0, Deco, min. 14
1-1, Bellamy, min 43
1-2, Riise, min 74
Barça were punished excessively in the first leg of their Champions League second round tie with Liverpool. The Merseysiders took advantage of two errors by the home team to move into pole position in the race for a quarter final berth.
Nobody expected a defeat like this, especially considering the way the night started for Barcelona. For most of the first half Rijkaard's side was much the better side but Deco's goal and several other opportunities were made to count for nothing when Bellamy scored on the stroke of half time. In the second half, Barça were once again hugely unfortunate, with Liverpool's winner far too great an award given the lack of attacking ambition they showed. All in all, tonight was a game to forget quickly, and the European champions now have to travel to Anfield, where nothing but a win will mean they stay in the competition.
Sizing up the opposition
Rijkaard opted for a very attack-minded starting eleven, with Belletti, Messi and Saviola all getting the nod. The two strikers had a clear mission – to use their skill and speed to break through a Liverpool defence that is notably strong in the air. The Reds made that evident from the start, but Barça played it patiently, passing the ball around and waiting for the moment to come. Messi was providing all the speed in the home side, causing the Liverpool defence to shift to his side of the field in the hope of giving him less room for movement. Meanwhile, Finnan was marking Ronaldinho as tightly, and as physically, as could have been asked of him.
Barça show their might
Barça needed to break the rhythm of a game that both sides were controlling in the tactical sense, and before the first quarter of an hour was up, Messi and Saviola had already given Reina a couple of wake-up calls before Deco struck a delightful shot just inside the far post after an excellent Zambrotta cross. 1-0 and, and it looked like there were going to more goals where that one came from. The Argentinian and the Italian were showing an excellent understanding together, and it looked like Riise and Agger were in for a difficult night, with both those players and Saviola too pressing forward time and time again in search of a second, which would have come had luck been on their side.
Pause and a shock
With Barça attacking at ease, Rijkaard decided it was time for his team to take its collective feet off the accelerator, rather than the constant onslaught on the Liverpool goal we were witnessing. The pace slowed down considerably, but Barcelona still had almost total possession of the ball, passing the ball from man to man and even drawing Victor Valdes into the action. Liverpool, meanwhile, could find no answer but to go at Barça physically, creating their first goalscoring opportunity of the game with a Bellamy effort that went straight into the side netting. Shortly after, the unmarked Welshman's head was on the end of a Xabi Alonso cross, and although Valdés was able to get to the ball, he was unable to stop himself from merely helping the ball over the line, and the game was level. It had all been totally against the run of play, but was also a severe reminder to Barça that in the Champions League every minor detail matters.
All about the midfield
Barça looked far more serious and focused in the second half, as if Bellamy's goal had reminded them that Liverpool are not a team to be taken lightly. But psychologically boosted, Bellamy and Kuyt looked far more incisive after the break, although Puyol and Márquez looked to have everything under control. The play was almost entirely based around the middle of the park, with Iniesta coming on for Motta in the hope of more fluid creativity, and also to avoid him collecting a second yellow card and missing out on the second leg at Anfield. But despite their dominance, the chances were few and far between. Ronaldinho came closest from a free kick before Giuly came on for Xavi after 64 minutes in the hope of stirring things up a bit in attack. Barça were out to win this one.
A tragic finale
But Liverpool also had their eyes on the win, and Gerrard brought out the best in Valdés after a free kick in the area following a needless backpass move. Shortly after, Kuyt headed the ball onto the Barça bar, although Barça were quick to react with two golden chances being squandered by Saviola and Messi. But the worst was yet to come. In the 73rd minute Riise took advantage of a horrendous mix up in the Barcelona defence, and scored Liverpool's second from within the area. The Camp Nou, which had been building itself up for a memorable night, was left stunned by disbelief.
To add more misery to the proceedings Belletti finished the game limping but unable to come off as Rijkaard had already exhausted his supply of changes by bringing on Gudjohnsen for Saviola. From here on, Barça played more with their hearts than their heads, but came frustrating close to equalising when Deco put a free kick onto Reina's post. And so it ended, with home defeat for Barça and a mountain to climb on Merseyside in the return leg. But there is no reason why history can't repeat itself, for the last time Barça were in this kind of situation, they won 3-1 at Anfield on that memorable night of November 20, 2001. May something similar happen again.